How Mastery Oriented Are Your PLC Conversations?

If we recorded the conversations during your PLCs, how much of the language would be identified as being mastery oriented vs self-limiting? In our classrooms, we would label these student statements as self-limiting:

I tell my parents about an assignment late on Sunday, they help me with it a lot more than if I start earlier.

 Practicing isn’t worth the time. I was no better at hitting the ball today then I was last week.

 The assignment was too hard so I didn’t do it.     

 I got a 100 on the test. It was so easy. (Self-limiting if the student studied well)

Self-limiting learners:

  • Believe ability is fixed and unchangeable
  • See failure as evidence of lack of ability
  • Are threatened by failure
  • Use maladaptive responses to challenge, expending energy and effort to avoid challenge, and thus circumvent failure
  • Do not believe that effort will produce success when applied to a task they think they will fail to perform (or have already failed to perform)
  • Do not persist in the face of challenge, because they believe effort will not produce success
  • Pick tasks that are easy or too far out of reach
  • Do not take responsibility for learning because they believe it is out of their control.
  • Create behaviors to protect themselves
  • Make choices that make it difficult to assess their performance

In our classrooms, we would label these student statements as mastery oriented:

That didn’t work. What will I try next?

 So, glad I studied a little each night, it made the test easy.

 I couldn’t balance on one foot very long in gym today. I’m going to practice at home.

 I’m not following how to do that math problem. I’ll listen closer as the teacher does the next one.

Mastery Oriented Learners

  • Believe ability is changeable
  • Believe failure is part of success
  • Adjust effort to situational requirements
  • Have positive energy
  • Persist when struggling to learn
  • Strive to meet moderately difficult and challenging learning goals
  • Use adaptive behaviors and strategies for situations
  • Perform well in competitive situations
  • Take responsibility for their own learning
  • Are concerned with producing future success

My attention to this topic was raised when I read a blog post, Why a ‘Growth Mindset’ Won’t Work, by Peter DeWit. He pointed out that growth mindset shows a low effect size in John Hattie’s research. I struggled as I read that based on my own beliefs about learning and mindsets. Then I read further….

“ the reason why growth vs. fixed mindset has a low effect size is due to the fact that adults have a fixed mindset and keep treating students accordingly, so right now the effect size is low, and will continue to stay low unless we change our practices in the classroom. We put students in ability groups, they get scores on high stakes tests that help label them, and then we place them in Academic Intervention Services (AIS) which adds to their fixed mindset. Once students enter into AIS or Special Education, very few leave. Students are conditioned to have a fixed mindset, and it’s due to us.”

A growth mindset is so vitally important for adults and students. Adults need to have that mindset for their own growth but more importantly for the growth of their students.

                                                                                                                               Peter DeWit

In workshops, I have teachers practice recognizing self- limiting student language (as well as their own) and reframing it.

When the student states, “I can’t”, the teacher quickly adds, “Yet”. (See a primary teacher’s use of “YET” here.)

When the student says, “This is really hard.” His teacher adds, “Sounds like you believe this will take some increased effort to master.”

When the student says, “I didn’t know how to do the homework.” Her teacher might respond with some questions. “When did you know, you’d have trouble with it?” What did you consider doing when you knew?”

So, if I am facilitating or coaching PLCs or just hearing a colleague’s self-limiting message, how might I use reframing?

If a teacher says, “Students are struggling with this and they don’t want to do the work to learn it.” I might ask, “Do you think we should explore a different learning strategy or examine the motivation question?”

If a teacher says, “The pacing guide doesn’t have enough time for our students to master some critical skills.” I might respond, “So you see us needing to develop a plan.”

If a teacher says, “The students can’t focus long enough for the length of the readings.” I might respond with, “ So you see building stamina needing to be our focus.”

When I begin to think, “The staff isn’t collaborating,” I quickly add “YET”.

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3 Responses to “ How Mastery Oriented Are Your PLC Conversations? ”

  1. Angela Koser Says:

    This is exactly what my teachers are working on. I am going to share. I have a few teacherate who use the YET word all the time. It makes me smile. Thank you!

  2. Ronni Reed Says:

    I love this approach Steve because it models for educators how to stay focused on the real problem statement. Then their collaborative minds and experiences can come up with strategies and solutions for improvements.

  3. Linda De Ivernois Says:

    Perfect timing for this, Steve! I just joined the LF Washington Board and we are planning a whole series focused on learning communities that nurture the heart of teachers! This info AND your presentation in Vancouver are hitting the mark! Bless you!

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…